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Teen dating violence happens, even in Utah Valley

August 18, 2018 GMT

Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series of articles about teen dating violence in Utah.

Domestic violence is gaining more attention in recent years and many programs have been put into action to try to stop this prevalent problem. But another serious, related problem in Utah is something that we do not hear about enough. That is the crime of teen dating violence.

According to Utah Department of Health, teen dating violence is physical, sexual, or psychological/emotional abuse and stalking which occurs within a dating relationship. It can occur in person or electronically and may occur between current or former dating partners.

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According to Utah Department of Health’s website, data was collected in 2013 through the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, or YRBSS, an anonymous questionnaire administered to high school students. This showed that 33.6 percent of female and 22.2 percent of male Utah high school students who went out with someone during the prior year had reported being victims of teen dating violence during the previous 12 months. Overall, of the students who were in a dating relationship, 27.9 percent experienced dating violence. It was also found that females were more likely to report dating violence compared to males.

Andi Tremonte, education and outreach coordinator for Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, said that the problem is so prevalent for some of the same reasons as domestic violence among adults.

“Dating violence is about power and control. Additionally, there is a lack of services for youth who are experiencing dating violence and few resources and protections,” she said.

“When youth do experience dating violence, it can be minimized as ‘teen issues,’” Tremonte said. “People shrug it off and say things such as ‘You just don’t understand what a real relationship is,’ or ‘You’re young, you’ll find someone.’”

Tremonte said that teens find examples of relationships from friends, media and family. These examples may not be healthy. In fact, domestic violence is often normalized in popular movies, books and games.

According to Whitney Leavitt, prevention education specialist for the Center for Women and Children in Crisis, CWCIC, Utah County is not immune from teen dating violence. Because the victims are not adults, the cases are referred to state Division of Child and Family Services. However, some of the most disturbing cases — those of sexual assault — are referred to CWCIC.

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“We do see sexual assaults, teens being sexually assaulted by their partners,” Leavitt said.

From Aug. 1, 2017, to July 31, 2018, 111 sexual assault victims ages 13-19 got help at the center. All of these are teens from Utah County.

“Most, if not all, are dating situations,” Leavitt said. Only about 10 percent of sexual assaults are ever reported.

“It can happen with someone who they have been dating for a long time or meeting for the first time,” Leavitt said. With dating apps being so popular, many of these cases have happened when someone meets a date this way.

The next article in this series discusses the signs of dating violence and warning signs for abusive teenage relationships.